Global Review publishes another article by Major General Asthana about the G-20 meeting and the question “ Is Strategic Balancing a ‘New Normal’ in the Interlinked World?“. We think that this point of view is not just an Indian view, but has many supporters in the world as a product of „America first“.
Major General Asthana is a veteran and gives his own opinion which is not that of any organization. However he is member of the United Services Institute (USI). USI, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) are the three most premier defense and security think tanks in India. IDSA is funded by Ministry of Defense and CLAWS is under the administrative control of the Indian Army.
About the author: Indian Major General Asthana (veteran)
BIODATA : MAJ GEN S B ASTHANA,SM,VSM
- Veteran Infantry General with 40 years of varied experience in national, international fields and UN. Former Additional Director General of Infantry of Indian Army and Head of Training at Defence Services Staff College Wellington. Awarded twice by President of India, twice by UN, and CEE excellence award for Nation building by Governor of Haryana.
- Presently Chief Instructor of all Courses for military officers in United Service Institute of India.
- Prolific strategic & military writer/analyst on international affairs. Authored over 100 publications/articles and over 100 blogs, on international & National issues. Has been interviewed by various National and International media channels in various appointments in India and abroad, including frequent discussions/opinions on WION, Rajyasabha TV, NewsX, Doordarshan, Samay TV, APN TV. Interviewed by Sputnik, SCMP (Six Times), Global Review (Germany) five times, Safety & Security International (Germany), Financial Express, The Sentinel and ANI (Several Times). Editorials in Financial Chronicle. Writing for Washington Post, The Guardian, Modern Diplomacy (EU and Africa), Global Review (Germany), FDI(Australia), Korea Times, Economic Times, South China Morning Post, Global Times (China), Asia Times (Australia), WION News, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Journal, Tuck Magazine(Australia), Eurasian Review, Business Standard, Diplomacy and Beyond, Indian Defence Review, GIAP Journal, USI Journal, Indian Military Review, Synergy Journal, ANI, Kootneeti, Borderless Newsonline, National Defence, Salute, Scroll, Print, Newsmobile, and Newsroom 24X7, Indian Observer Post in different forms, besides own publications.
- Currently on Board of Advisors in International Organisation of Educational Development (IOED), Confederation of Educational Excellence (CEE), and Security Council of United Nations Association of India (UNAI), United Nations Collaboration for Economic and Social Development in Africa (UNCESDA), International Council on Global Conflict Resolution (ICGCR) and International Police Commission (IPC). Life member of various Think Tanks like IDSA, USI of India, Center for Land Warfare Studies & FDI (Australia).
- Delivering talks regularly on strategic, military & motivational subjects in various universities/organisations, UN subjects in Centers of UN peacekeeping (globally), CUNPK, New Delhi, & conducting UN exercises. External examiner for M Phil, with Panjab University, in Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), New Delhi.
- Doctoral researcher with JNU, holds two M Phil degrees with outstanding grade, PGDHRM and various management degrees, UN Courses, prestigious Defence Courses, Advanced Professional Program in Public Administration at IIPA, and National Development Course in Taiwan.
Reachable at Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube and Google+ as Shashi Asthana, asthana_shashi on twitter, and writing on own site https://asthanawrites.org/ email firstname.lastname@example.org LinkedIn Profile www.linkedin.com/in/shashi-asthana-4b3801a6
The G-20 Summit 2018, besides its normal proceedings, will be remembered for extra-ordinary large number of bilateral and trilateral meetings on the sidelines, which seem to be even more significant than the main purpose of the meet. There were some high profile bilateral meetings like US – China in context of trade war is on global watch list. US – Russia meeting (Scheduling of which saw many flip-flops) finally did not take place due to Ukraine crisis, and ongoing investigations of alleged Russian hand in US elections. The two trilateral meetings involving US-Japan-India and China-Russia-India were also seen to be very significant because of centrality of Indian position in both the meetings. One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that the world is that the world has got interlinked so much as never before, hence even bilateral relations between global powers impact the world directly or indirectly. Beyond the optics, all these meetings did not deliver as much as expected, but what was significant was the signaling and gestures by various world leaders, which conveyed more than what was said.
When a large number of countries including US allies, strategic and trade partners joined AIIB, against the wishes of US, it was quite evident that a time has come that many countries will like to have alternate sources of funding other than west dominated IMF or Japan dominated ADB and will follow their own national interest. Similarly when China exhibited aggressive design of converting feature and atolls to artificial islands, with a view to have South China Sea as ‘Chinese lake’ based on unilateral interpretation of history ignoring international laws, UNCLOS and decision of ICJ, a group of democratic countries huddled together to form QUAD with a potential to counter balance such moves, which have possibility of obstructing global trade and exploitation of global commons. The Russian aggression westwards post Crimea, brought many western countries together resulting heavy sanctions on Russia, (followed by the recent standoff with Ukraine, Martial Law in some parts of Ukraine and the criticality still continuing. The Western opposition and sanctions was instrumental in pushing Russia nearer to Beijing. The international relationships and strategic interests of most countries in the interlinked world of today are so interwoven, that it is difficult to count countries only in one grouping; hence many new issue based groupings have emerged in last few decades.
Are Global Powers pushing everyone to Strategic Balancing?
In the exuberance of pursuing ‘America First’ policy, in last few years US has been highly critical of some of its allies, strategic and trade partners, whenever they did not follow a course which was of interest to America. In some cases it used threatening gestures, while some others were put under sanctions. The policy got a major jolt, when they threatened everyone to support their decision of shifting embassy to Jerusalem, but many countries junked the threat and voted as per their own perception. A similar issue came up earlier, when the last US President got all Head of States of ASEAN countries together to discuss South China Sea issue and wanted a joint statement, condemning Chinese actions, but those countries did oblige. Pulling out of Paris accord for climate change, Iran Nuclear deal, TPP are some more examples when all the ‘Friends of US’ are not on the same page, and decided to continue with it even without US. Pulling out of nuclear deal with Russia is under global criticism, as it could trigger fresh arms race and a dangerous one, although US has some strategic logic to do so in American interest. The last G-7 Summit was not a pleasant experience for US allies due to alleged self centered economic approach of US. The NATO allies are also relatively lesser confident of US backing and keep waiting for next surprise from US Administration. Under these circumstances, Is US Concept of ‘With US’ or ‘Against US’ is outdated in Interlinked World?
On the other hand Chinese after announcing Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, with elevation of President Xi Jinping from ‘Chairman of everything’ to ‘Core’ and ‘Leader for life’, exhibited its expeditionary design starting from South China Sea to land grabbing in Indian Ocean. With its fast growth it tried to showcase its methodology of governance better than democratic model. Its ‘Incremental Encroachment Strategy’ in Doklam as well as South China Sea exhibited its ambitions exceeding beyond peaceful growth to the arena of global strategic dominance; hence it started facing opposition from a group of democratic countries in various forms like formulation of QUAD and other groupings. Interestingly most of Chinese neighbors did not buy its method of governance and some of them went democratic in recent past, while maintaining good relations with it. In case of Russia also, we find Germany, a US ally drawing gas from them. Russia and China helping out North Korea with fuel and essentialities immediately after Singapore Summit between President Trump and Kim.Russia a strategic partner of India supplying military hardware to Pakistan and many other countries. A cross pollination of relations is therefore quite evident.
Analysing the cases of three global powers above, a time has come when most countries want to manage their international relations as per their own national interest, and do not want their strategic choices to be dictated by others. The strategic autonomy is quite dear to every sovereign country. It is also a fact that as the world keeps getting more interlinked, the trend of issue based relationships is increasing. In context of the above let me analyze few cases justifying the ‘Compulsion of Strategic Balancing’ in international dynamics.
Japan’s Insecurity and Prime Minister Abe’s visit to China followed by meeting Indian Counterpart
During Prime Minister Abe’s visit to China on the 40th anniversary of the ‘Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China’ hardly any issues of divergences were discussed. It was looked as an effort to ‘Fostering Mutual Political Trust’ and ‘Cooperation and Confidence Building in Maritime and Security Affairs’. Beyond good optics, it can be seen as an effort to balance out/reset relations with China, and a messaging about independence in foreign policy formulation of Japan. Immediately after this first visit to Beijing since 2012, Prime Minister Abe hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a resort near Mount Fuji for a luncheon Sunday, just a day after returning from talks with the leader of China. While the leaders may call India-Japan partnership having been strengthened as a ‘special strategic and global partnership,’ but beyond the optics, it can be termed as an effort to balance relations between China and India as well. India would perhaps be looking to move forward in convergences, and need not be concerned of Sino -Japan engagement because India and Japan have hardly any issues of divergences. The balancing/resetting by Japan in international relations was again exhibited, by the fact that Japanese PM seems to be „determined“ to wrap up talks toward peace treaty based on 1956 declaration with Putin, stipulating the return of two of four northern islands by Russia to Japan, while retaining claim on all four. The self confidence of Japan in balancing act between US, China, Russia and India is noticeable.
South Korean bonhomie with North Korea
South Korea despite being apprehensive of dangerous arsenal of North Korea continues to be an ally of US. Deployment of THAAD, military exercises with US forces caused great anxiety not only in North Korea, but in China and Russia as well. Despite heavy sanctions on North Korea, it continues with its nuclear and missile tests. When President Trump started giving confusing signals of ‘America First’ and asking allies to pay for their security, South Korea was inclined to attempt peace in Korean Peninsula and making it nuclear free. South Korea was successful in seemingly impossible diplomatic exercise of getting together Kim and President Trump together for a summit. As an analyst, I do not count the summit anything beyond optics, as nothing worthwhile has changed in nuclear and long range missiles capabilities of North Korea as well as UN sanctions after the Summit, but South Korea has improved its relations with North considerably applying the theory of strategic balance. North and South Korea had Summits, exhibiting lot of bonhomie, decided to field one sports team under single flag, started people to people contact, and South Korea started helping North Korea with essential humanitarian needs, where China and Russia joined in to start business as usual with North Korea, immediately after Singapore Summit. The optics of keeping missiles and nukes away from North Korean parade does not mean that it will really destroy the only leverage it has, which is making US talk to him, and condemning Iran and Syria, looking for regime change there. Some symbolic destruction of few testing sites by North Korea and destruction of few posts along demilitarized zone does not mean that South has full confidence over North Korea, but it clearly indicates that South Korea is balancing/resetting relations between them.
India’s Strategic behavior: Is it different than Balancing/Resetting International relations?
India’s participation in QUAD, Informal meetings with President Xi Jinping, President Putin, Prime Minister Abe and US Vice President Pence besides 2+2 Dialogue with US can also be seen as effort to balance relationships. Post Wuhan visit of Prime Minister Modi to China is being seen to be a dilemma of India by western media about its role in QUAD, suspecting a friendly outlook towards China. In my opinion there is hardly any worthwhile change in Indian strategic behavior. India has a set of convergences and divergences of interests with major global players namely China, USA and Russia. India has so far been able to keep these relations exclusive of each other; hence has been able to successfully manage an independent foreign relationship without any bias. In my opinion, there is no dilemma in Indian mind or strategic behavior. India follows an independent foreign policy. In Indo-Pacific, it stands with US, Japan and Australia in checking Chinese encroachment of global common like South China Sea.In case of land frontier and proxy war, India has to fight its own war with some help from friendly countries including equipment from Russia, Israel, France to name a few, besides our friends from QUAD members, hence it has to tackle relationship with China in a different manner, on this issue.
Unilateralism is Outdated/Impractical Concept
There is a growing opinion that US needs to revise its policy of sanctions and CAATSA. This analysis suggests that President Trump’s moving out of Iran Deal, reintroduction of sanctions on Iran,(with many of its allies still honoring Iran Nuclear Deal), as well as further push on CAATSA on countries trading with Russia might edge US towards its own diplomatic/ strategic and economic isolation in the long run . The ICJ decision on 03 October 2018 ordering US to remove any restrictions on the export of humanitarian goods and services to Iran to some extent shows that the world may not always buy US narrative on sanctions. Similarly Chinese aggressive stance in South China Sea will continue to bring resistance in different forms by collective efforts of affected parties, and its purse diplomacy will not work everywhere. Ongoing Trade War, strengthening of Taiwan and military posturing in South China Sea are indicators which will discomfort China. In interlinked world interactions with all countries wherever their interests converge is the order of the day. Japanese trade with China, visit of Prime Minister Abe to China followed by visit of Prime Minister Modi and Some countries pursuing relations with Saudi Arabia despite CIA revelations are some examples of this new normal in future. It is also expected that in a multilateral world of today, no country will be able to dictate the strategic choices of others or force any country not to act in its national interest in future. It also proves a point that any country, which thinks that it can rule the world all by itself, is sadly mistaken in the future world, which is overly interlinked.
Major General S B Asthana
(The views expressed are personal views of the author and do not represent views of any organization. The author can be reached as Shashi Asthana on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ and on website http://www.asthanawrites.org)